Information sheet

Child Emigration

Sheet number 10

17th and 18th Century emigration

Child emigration began in England in the early 17th century, when the London Common Council sent out 100 vagrant children to the first permanent English settlement in North America, Jamestown in Virginia in 1619.  More vagrant and poor children were sent out following the Privy Council's authorisation of child migration in 1620 with, for example, a 100 vagrant children being sent out amongst the reinforcements following the Indian Massacre of the settlers in Virginia in 1622.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, men, women and children were sentenced to transportation to the American and other colonies as punishment for crime.  The labour shortage in the colonies also encouraged the act of spiriting (ie kidnapping) children for work in the Americas, resulting in large numbers of children, especially from Scotland, being forcibly emigrated.  This continued until its exposure in 1757, following a civil action against Aberdeen businessmen and magistrates for their involvement in the trade.

The American War of Independence in 1783 meant an end to transportation to the American Colonies, and with the creation of the penal colony in New South Wales, Australia became the focus for child emigration, together with Canada and New Zealand.

19th and 20th Century child emigration

Child emigration was undertaken by religious and charitable organisations (for further details see below).  One of the earliest of these being the Children's Friend Society established in 1830 (see 1 below), which sent out its first party of child migrants to Australia in 1832.  In 1844 the Ragged School Movement began, and sent out 150 children to New South Wales in 1849.  In 1850 Parliament legalised Poor Law Guardians to fund emigration of children to the colonies.

Between 1870 and 1914 some 80,000 child emigrants, often known as "British Home Children", were sent out to Canada alone, many as part of the Farm School Movement (see 12 below).  After the interruption of the First World War child migration recommenced and following the Empire Settlement Act of 1923, the British Government supplied financial assistance to care societies to assist with migration, especially to farm school establishments.  Australia became the main destination instead of Canada due to the effects of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  Child migration schemes continued until the outbreak of the Second World War.

During the Second World War, possibly some 17,000 children were temporary emigrants to the British Dominions and USA, under official and unofficial schemes of evacuation to avoid the air raids and threat of invasion in Britain.  In one tragic incident the passenger liner Benares, which sailed from Liverpool on 13 September 1940 with 90 evacuee children under the government-sponsored scheme to Canada, was sunk by a U-boat with the loss of 83 of the children.

After the end of the war there were no ships available to take children to Australia until 1947, but there were now fewer British children sent as migrants, and the majority of these were sent out by the Catholic Church to Western Australia.  Youth migration became more popular than child migration.  In 1956 British Catholic care institutions ceased sending children out to Australia, following a critical report of a Home Office Fact-Finding Committee's inspection of the Australian institutions.  The last nine child migrants to Australia were sent out by air by Barnardo's in 1967.

Child emigration societies and organisations

The Maritime Archives & Library does not hold any archives of child emigration societies, except for the National Children's Home (see 5 below).  Addresses can be found at the end of this information sheet.

1 The Children's Friend Society

  The Children's Friend Society was founded in London in 1830, as the Society for the Suppression of Juvenile Vagrancy, through the reformation and emigration of children.  In 1832 the first party of children were sent to the Cape of Good Hope and Swan River Colony in Australia.  In August 1833 their first party of children was despatched to Toronto, Canada with a total of 230 children being sent to Ontario and New Brunswick.

2  Annie MacPherson

  The Children's Aid Society founded in 1853 in New York sent out orphans from New York by "orphan train" to the farming states of the mid-west at Kansas, Ohio, Michigan and Iowa.  This idea of sending out children to schools to be trained for farm work was adopted in London in 1870 by Annie MacPherson, the Scottish Evangelist.  She escorted her first party of 100 children to her centre at Belleville, Ontario in 1870 and sent further children to her receiving homes of Marchmont and Galt, in Ontario, and Knowlton in Quebec.  Annie MacPherson also arranged emigration parties for children from Dr. Barnardo's, the Quarrier Homes in Scotland and the Smyly Homes of Dublin as well as her own Home of Industry in East London.

3  Liverpool Sheltering Homes

In the late 1860s Alexander Balfour and Stephen Williamson, partners in the Liverpool shipowning firm of Balfour, Williamson & Co., became concerned at the numbers of destitute and orphaned children in Liverpool.  Balfour along with another Liverpool shipowner, John Houghton, heard Annie MacPherson lecturing in London on her work with child emigration. Her sister, Louisa Birt, who assisted in her work, came to Liverpool to lecture about their work at a public meeting, which was held in November 1872. It was agreed that a society should be established in Liverpool to further this work, with the fundraising and management of the home to be kept separate from the London organisation. John Houghton offered the free use of premises adjoining the old Byrom Hall Baptist Chapel in Byrom Street, which was formally opened on 1 May 1873. The purpose of the Liverpool Sheltering Homes was to rescue destitute children, train them in the home, and accompany them to Canada. From Marchmont House in Ontario they were placed with families although they were supervised and visited until they reached the age of eighteen. 

In 1889 the Liverpool Sheltering Homes moved into a new home in Myrtle Street.  Following the death of Louisa Birt in 1915, the family involvement was continued by her daughter Miss Lilian Birt. During Louisa Birt's lifetime an estimated 6,000 children were sent to Canada. The Home closed during the First World War but reopened in 1919.  Six years later it was amalgamated with Dr Barnardo's, who closed their own Home in Liverpool and transferred to Myrtle Street.

The Home was used as a training centre for boys before they migrated to Canada. In the late 1920s, as migration to Canada ceased, it was used as a home for schoolboys until it closed in 1935. The records are held at Liverpool University as part of the Barnardo's archive.

4  Maria Rye's Female Middle-Class Emigration Society

Maria Rye (1829-1903) founded the Female Middle-Class Emigration Society in 1861 and was responsible for escorting parties of young women to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. From 1869 she also assisted young girls from workhouses, aged between 5-12 years. In September 1869 she sent her first party of 76 children, including many from Liverpool workhouse schools, to Canada on the SS Hibernian from Liverpool. In the annual report of 1874 Maria said that the "expense of taking a child out of the gutters in London, and placing it in Canada .... may be roughly reckoned at £15 per head".  Her main home in England was in Peckham, which was opened on the 13 July 1872.  Most girls spent up to a year there before they were sent to Canada via Liverpool and Quebec, from where they would travel by train to the reception home at Niagara, called 'Our Western Home'.

In 1874 the Local Government Board commissioned Andrew Doyle, one of its senior inspectors, to report back on the schemes for emigration of workhouse children to Canada, with particular concern expressed about the schemes operated by Maria Rye and Annie MacPherson.  Following his critical report, the Local Government Board stopped the emigration of children from workhouses in March 1875, a decision that forced Maria Rye to suspend sending out more children for two years.

  Upon Maria Rye's retirement in 1895 the management of her organisation passed to the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society (see 11 below).  Emigration through the scheme ceased in July 1915 when the Home closed.  Records of her organisation can be found at Liverpool University.

5  National Children's Homes

The National Children's Homes and Orphanages was founded by the Methodist Reverend Thomas Bowman Stephenson, Francis Horner and Alfred Mager, 1869.  The first Children's Home was opened in London but they quickly expanded into other areas of Britain (becoming known as the National Children's Home in 1907).  The charity started an emigration scheme sending children to Canada from 1873-1931, to Australia as part of the Fairbridge Farm School (1937-1939) and directly itself from 1950-1954.  A total of 3,600 children were sent to Canada, Australia and New Zealand between 1873-1931 alone.

The Maritime Archives & Library holds a small collection of photographs of children, publicity leaflets and historical notes, including an account of the first party of children's voyage on the SS Polynesian to Ontario in 1873.

DX/444  c1900-1980

6  Catholic Organisations

Father Nugent of Liverpool, through his Nugent Society Care Homes, was the first of the Catholic organisations to send children to Canada.  He made arrangements with local parish priests who were to place the children with local families in Quebec and Ontario. In 1870 a small party of 24 children and Father Nugent set sail for Canada, and Father Nugent became a pioneer in finding new homes, new lives and new opportunities for destitute children.  On their arrival he embarked on a nine month lecture tour of Canada and America, pleading the case for "Nobody's Children".  His argument was that "poverty is no crime, but a misfortune". If you are trying to trace someone who emigrated to Canada or the USA, you can contact the Archivist at their Head Office (see address list at the end of this information sheet).

The Custody of Children Act (Barnardo's Act) 1891 legalised the work of private emigration societies, and Catholic child migration became focussed through the Archdiocese of Westminster's "Crusade of Rescue" in 1899 and all work was moved to St George's in Ottawa. By the early 1900s children were being sent to Canada from Father Berry's Homes in Liverpool. St George's was closed in 1935.  Records for the Catholic children in Canada were returned to England and some were subsequently destroyed.  However, the original records may still be available in Britain (see address list at the end of this information sheet).

7  Dr Barnardo's

Founded in London in 1869, Dr. Barnardo's sent out children with Annie MacPherson in the 1870s before sending children themselves, with some 30,000 children and young people being sent to Canada between 1882-1939.  Around 2,784 children and young people were sent out to Australia from 1921 until the end of child migration in 1967 when Barnardo's sent out its last nine migrants.

8  Fegan's Child and Family Care (Fegan's Homes)

  James Fegan founded his first home in Deptford in 1872. He sent out around 3,166 boys to his homes in Brandon, Manitoba and Toronto, Canada, between 1884-1938.

9 Quarriers Homes

  Quarriers Homes (formerly the Orphan Homes of Scotland and Quarriers Homes) sent out their first children to Ontario, Canada with Annie MacPherson on the ship St David on 2 July 1872. In 1888 they set up their own receiving home "Fairknowe" at Brockville, Ontario, to receive children from the Quarrier Home in Scotland and from the Douglas Industrial Home, Isle of Man.

10 Middlemore Homes

John T Middlemore founded the Child's Emigration Homes in Birmingham, and sent out children to Ontario, Canada in 1873, and later from 1893 to Nova Scotia. In all, a total of 5,000 children were sent to Canada and around 259 to Australia (1922-1955) in association with the Fairbridge Farm Schools.

11 The Children's Society (formerly the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society)

  The Children's Society sent out approximately 3,940 children to Canada, Australia and Southern Rhodesia between 1883 and c1995.  It maintained six receiving homes in Canada which received children between 1883-1937, and from 1925-c1955 used other agencies to send children to Australia and Southern Rhodesia.

12 The Farming School Movements

In 1903 Mrs Elinor Close established a training farm in Nova Scotia to train workhouse children before their placement with Canadian farmers.  In 1912 Thomas Sedgewick sent out his first party of 50 youths (15-19 yrs old) from Liverpool and London to New Zealand. The first farm school of the Child Emigration Society of Oxford was established by Kingsley Fairbridge at Pinjarra near Perth, Australia in 1912. The Fairbridge Society became the leading exponent of the farm school movement, and assisted over 3,362 child migrants to Australia between 1913-c1960.  In the 1950s they also introduced a Parent Migration Scheme.

13 The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army founded by William Booth assisted emigrants to Canada in the late 19th century, especially children up until World War One.  After the War they sent migrants to Australia, especially farm boys who were trained at its special training camp at Riverview, Brisbane. In the 1920s the Army chartered the Vedic to make four voyages with emigrants to Australia.

14 Child Migrant Trust

In 1986 Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys set up the Child Migrant Trust to assist former child migrants reunite with their families.  In 1998 after several years of campaigning by the Child Migrant Trust, a UK Parliamentary Committee visited Australia to report on the child migration policy and the poor treatment of many of the child migrants, particularly those in the Catholic homes in Western Australia and Queensland.  On 13 August 1998 the Western Australian Legislative Assembly apologised to the former child migrants for their poor treatment in the state's institutions.

15 Boys and Girls Welfare Society (previously Manchester and Salford Boys and Girls Refuges) now Together Trust

Established in 1870 by Leonard Shaw and Richard B Taylor and took part in the child emigration scheme, primarily to Canada and then through the Child Emigration Society from about 1918. Owned the Marchmont Home in Belleville, Ontario, Canada until 1915 when it was taken over by the Liverpool Sheltering Homes.


BAGNALL, Kenneth.  The Little Immigrants: The Orphans Who Came to Canada.  Toronto: Macmillan, 1980

BARKER, Ralph.  CHILDREN of the BENARES: A War Crime and its Victims.  Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Methuen, 1987

BEAN, Philip & MELVILLE, Joy.  Lost Children of the Empire.  London: Unwin Hyman, 1989

BLACKBURN, Geoff.  The Children's Friend Society: Juvenile Emigrants to Western Australia, South Africa and Canada, 1834-1842.  Northbridge: W.A. Access, 1993

BOWDER, Bill.  Children First: A Photo of England's Children in Need.  London: Mowbray, 1980

FETHNEY, Michael.  The Absurd and the Brave: CORB the True Account of the British Government's World War II Evacuation of children overseas.  Sussex: Book Guild, 1990

GILL, Alan.  Orphans of the Shocking Story of Child Emigration to Australia.  Milsons Point, New South Wales: Vintage, 1998

HORNE, Alistair.  A Bundle from Britain.  London: Macmillan, 1993

HUMPHREYS, Margaret.  Empty Cradles.  London: Corgi Books, 1995

PARR, Joy.  Labouring Children: British Immigrant Apprentices to Canada, 1869-1924. London: Croom Helm, 1980

SHERINGTON, Geoffrey & JEFFERY, Chris.  Fairbridge, Empire and Child Emigration. London: Woburn Press, 1998

STOKES, Edward.  Innocents Abroad: The Story of British Child Evacuees in Australia, 1940-1945.  St. Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 1994

SUTHERLAND, Neil.  Children in English-Canadian Society: framing the Twentieth-Century Consensus.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976

WAGNER, Gillian.  Children of the Empire.  London: Weidenfield, 1982

Useful addresses  

Child Welfare Archives
Department of Special Collections and Archives
Sydney Jones Library
University of Liverpool
PO Box 123
Liverpool   L69 3DA

Tel: 0151 794 2696
Fax: 0151 794 2681 

The National Archives (PRO)
Ruskin Avenue
Kew, Richmond
Surrey   TW9 4DU

Tel: 020 8392 5200
Fax: 020 8878 8905


Barnardo's - After Care Centre
Tanner's Lane

Tel: 020 8550 8822
Fax: 020 8498 7017


For child emigration timeline: migrationl.htm

Catholic Children's Society
73 St Charles Square
W10 6EJ

Tel: 020 8969 5305
Fax¨020 8960 1464


207 Waterloo Road

Tel: 020 7928 1704
Fax: 020 7928 6016


National Children's Home (NCH)
85 Highbury Park
N5 1UD

Tel: 020 7704 7094
Fax: 020 7704 7172


The Salvation Army
101 Newington Causeway

Tel: 020 7367 4924
Fax: 020 7367 4712

Middlemore Homes
55 Stevens Avenue
Bartley Green
Birmingham   B32 3SD

Tel: 0121 427 2429
Fax: 0121 427 8752

Mr Fegan's Homes Inc
160 St James Road
Tunbridge Wells
Kent   TN1 2HE

Tel: 01892 538288
Fax: 01892 515793


Quarrier Homes
PA11 3SX


Children's Society Archive
Block A, Floor 2
Tower Bridge Business Complex
100 Clement Road
London   SE16 4DG

Tel: 020 75252 2966
Fax: 020 7837 39 02


The Archivist - Nugent Care Society
99 Edge Lane
L7 2PE

Tel: 0151 261 2000


Barnardo's Photographic and Film Archive
Tanners Lane

Tel: 020 8498 7345

The Archivist – Together Trust
Schools Hill

Tel: 0161 2834815


Records relating to child migrants may be held in the archives of the recipient countries:

For America, check the US National Archives and Records Administration at

For Australia, see the National Archives of Australia at

New Zealand archives can be located at

For Canada, see the National Archives of Canada at section on "Home Children". 

The Canadian National Archives holds the following:

www.dcs.uwater.calmarj/genealogy/homeadd.html is a website by Marjorie Kohl of the University of Waterloo, Canada, which provides information on organisations which sent children to Canada, 1833-1935.

See for information on child migration societies and organisations.

The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa website hosts projects for listing home children who came to Canada from Britain. This includes indexing of home children in the passenger lists of ships arriving in Canada from Britain between 1869 and 1948 (started in 1998), and the indexing of Middlemore home children arriving in Canada between 1873 and 1933 (started in 2001, with 1872-1892 on to date).

The National Archives have digitised their BT 27 record series providing passenger lists from 1890 to 1960. These records can be viewed online at Inward passenger lists from 1878 to 1960 are also available at the National Archives and online at

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